Militants free kidnapped engineer in Philippines

MANILA (AFP) - Suspected Islamic militants have freed a Filipino engineer they abducted in the southern Philippines 53 days ago, the military said on Sunday.

Bonifacio Salinas was seized by alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf group on the volatile southern island of Jolo in February along with his wife, Claire, who was freed a month later.

Local military spokesman Captain Ryan Lacuesta said the gunmen released Salinas on a mountainous roadside Saturday night.

"He was instructed to walk towards the direction of the Jolo airport. He met some civilians on his way who helped him contact the Marines brigade headquarters," Lacuesta said.

"Engineer Salinas has been reunited with his family," Lacuesta said.

He said it "there is no information" on whether a ransom was paid, or who the abductors were.

Salinas could not be reached for comment.

Kidnappings in the region have been largely blamed on the Abu Sayyaf, a small gang of self-styled Islamic militants founded in the 1990s with seed money from Al-Qaeda, according to the police and the military.

The rag-tag group of about 300 militants operates out of jungle terrain on Jolo and nearby islands.

Local armed forces have been hunting them down with aid from US military intelligence, but the group has managed to survive by hiding among remote poor communities that for years have been fertile grounds for recruitment.

An Abu Sayyaf unit early this month raided a dive resort across the sea border in Sabah, Malaysia, and kidnapped a Chinese tourist and a Filipina resort worker.

The captors have demanded a ransom of $11 million for the tourist with negotiations done through intermediaries.

The Philippine government has a no-ransom policy although it is widely known that all kidnapping victims are freed by paying what the military and Abu Sayyaf euphemistically call "board and lodging payment".

Apart from the two kidnapped from Sabah, the Abu Sayyaf is also believed to be holding Dutchman Ewold Horn and Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra, who were kidnapped in July 2010 while on a birding expedition.

Japanese national Amer Mamaito Katayama also kidnapped in July remains in captivity.